“I’m a Deacon.” That’s a sentence I have said or written many times over the past few years. It’s often met with confused looks because “deacon” means different things to different people and within different denominations. As deacons across the world celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Order of Deacon in the United Methodist Church, this seems like a great time to explain a bit about what being a deacon means to me.
In some denominations, a deacon is a lay member who serves the church, often in a specific way such as an usher, treasurer or as a communion steward. In other denominations, deacons are clergy members that serve in their role as a kind of stepping stone to becoming a priest or elder. That’s how the United Methodist Church used to view deacons as well. A clergyperson was ordained as a deacon and served in that role for at least two years before being ordained as an elder. That changed at the 1996 General Conference with the establishment of the Order of Deacon.
Like elders, deacons are called to Word and Service. That means that we all proclaim the Gospel, through preaching, teaching, writing, art, etc. We are all also called to serve God, the Church and our neighbors, near and far. Elders are further called to Sacrament and Order–consecrating the elements for Communion, blessing the water for baptism, and ordering the life of the Church.
Deacons, however, are called to Compassion and Justice. The way we live out this call varies from deacon to deacon. Some deacons serve in their local church in a specialized ministry. FUMC Hurst has five deacons on our staff, and we each have an area (or multiple areas) of specialized ministry. Other deacons serve as chaplains, teachers, firefighters, broadcasters, nurses, counselors, financial advisors, and in many other roles outside the Church. Part of the call of the deacon is to be a bridge between the world and the church. I like to use the term “ambassador.” We are called to bring the Church to the world, and to bring the cares of the world to the Church. We are asked to equip and lead the Body of Christ in the care of our neighbors – through compassion and justice.
The symbol of the deacon is a pitcher and bowl. This reminds us of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as an act of service and compassion. It reminds us to embody those same principles in our lives. Our stoles are worn diagonally. Some say it is to remind us of a towel—like Jesus might have used while washing feet. Others say it is to keep our hands free for work. Either way, the stole is a visible reminder or our call and our distinct Order.
I could go on and on about what I love about being a deacon in the United Methodist Church, but, instead, I hope you will come ask me and the other deacons on our staff about our calls and why we chose to be ordained as deacons. All our stories are different, and that’s part of the beauty of the Order of Deacon.